It’s Friday, peeps. And that means Bard-a-Palooza, where I dish out your whole weekends worth of ROTTEN AT THE HEART in one steaming helping. The plot thickens as the Bard and company brace a printer, and a mysterious assailant makes his play. Chapters 13 and 14, for your reading pleasure.
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Jaggard was both a printer and a bookseller and a full member of the Stationer’s Guild, so our Company had regular truck with both his concerns. Being that he also was a man of not little ambition and by reputation would ready do that most to his own benefit, although none would actually call him false, we did hope he would this smaller client betray so as to retain our favor.
“My good sirs,” Jaggard said, guiding us from the more clamorous confines of his print shop to the room next, where he stored some materials, “and even Gentleman, as I am told the esteemed Shakespeare may now rightly be addressed. That you all three seek my congress leads me to hope you have some large need?”
“A large need concerning a small matter,” said Burbage, and he slapped the pamphlet down stern on the table.
Jaggard snorted a short laugh. “I’ve seen such of course, but pay it no heed, pamphleteers by reputation as like to call a cow a crow, and then still try sell its milk.”
“As I am in this both cow and crow, I would have known who takes such interest, whether in my milk or in my feathers,” I said, “for clear they do mean me ill.”
Jaggard shrugged, “Some Puritan much aggrieved of your art and no more, and of what consequence, as almost any man of reputation these days may find himself target. This is proof of your standing, and of no more, and so, were I you, I would celebrate if I did not choose to ignore it. Anything that makes your name, even if with some whiff of scandal, likely more fills your audience.”
“And still I would know his name,” I said. “If only that I may thank him to his face.”
At which Jaggard’s face did grim. “And how from me?”
At which Burbage lost some patience and held up that hanbill that did mimic the pamphlet in its imperfections.
“Do you think us such fools that we should have so much printed – and in so, passing much coin to your purse, I would remind – and still do not have at least some small knowledge of your art?” Burbage said. “In any printing, there are such small faults as are unique to the press of each house. And such matching faults do plain appear both here,” Burbage pushed the handbill into Jaggard’s chest, “ and here,” pushing now the pamphlet with his other hand. “And as he know you to have printed the former, then we know you, too, to have printed this unkind assault on our friend and, I might add, your good patron.”
Jaggard now laid both documents to table and pretended a close examining, “I could see where eyes some schooled but of short experience would see it so.”
“Then you say on your honor this comes not from your press?” I asked.
“On my honor? I cannot say sure, as such small job could easy pass from its ordering to its execution in the hands of my son or some other without my console, as it is simple in its requirements. We are, after all, in the business of print and do not make habit to decline such commerce as might present itself.”
“So comes some Puritan from the street, that has not previous made your employ, and asks printed such that makes this charge against a regular patron of long standing, and for only such few pennies as might this job be worth, in your mind is his commerce is as good as mine?” I asked.
“Sir, you misunderstand me. I say only that it be possible that such job could transpire and I have no knowledge of it, some of the shop being skilled at their craft but not much read or knowing of our business, so that to them it seemed only some paper and some ink.”
“But such job being only of recent minting, sure, you could quick discern when it was ordered and by whom by asking those in your employ.” Burbage said, now standing such close to Jaggard as to limit his comfort.
Jaggard backed nearer the door. “I do wish I had known of this job at such time as it was offered, as I would have declined it, but having taken it on, and its author wishing to be anonymous, to reveal him would my honor offend. You being men of honor must see this sure.”
“A short minute past, you implied this to be not of your press, then perhaps of it, and now of it sure, but that your honor binds you to hold secret its author,” I said, “you having also said it was our short schooling in your art that even made us think it yours. What apt pupils we must be to have so quick discerned the truth both of the pamphlet’s printing and of your honor..”
Jaggard, now much flustered, shook his head. “Sir, you have advantage of me in matters of wit, that I ready admit, and by such art now make me seem to say such as I did not mean.”
“Then let me phrase this simple so as not to tax what wits you hold,” I answered. “You claim to have no knowledge of such being printed in your shop, but also refuse to learn if it be so, and even did you know, you would tell us not, as your honor, which does seem to come and go at your convenience, would have your hold the secret of its author dear even as it holds the value of our commerce cheap?”
“I can only say you were meant no insult at my hands and that I do true regret any that was unknowing done, and that I will say no other, as the more I say, the double more you seem to hear.”
“Then we will take leave so that you can in private on your honor reflect,” I said, “while we reflect on what future need we may have of it. Or of your commerce.”
Jaggard importuned us stay as we left, sure, he said, that, being men of honor all, we could reach such settlement as offended none, but we left him to his blathering.
“I cannot credit that Jaggard would some small chick protect at the risk of offending a such a hen as us that doth oft lay such rich eggs,” Heminges said.
“He would not,” Burbage said.
“Which means we have some other hen in our hen house,” I said, “If not some fox, and our Puritan Friend is likely, then, either hen or fox, but neither Puritan nor friend.”
A fiery curve like some slice of hell escaped to heaven bent along the western horizon, striped in fading bands of smoke some thousands fires arising weak against its brilliance, seeming proof of the vanity of any paltry human enterprise, and this sight lent a sinister aspect to the gloaming hour as I made my way around the expanse of St. Paul’s, it nearing its completion, but some areas still much cluttered with the materials and debris of its current reconstruction, the Cathedral having burned in the Great Fire some thirty years hence. As I had only before been to the Cathedral grounds in day, I was used to them crowded, and oft with business more secular than ecclesiastical. Emptied now, and in this failing and reddened light, a litter of papers and other discard gave a small stir of shiver in what little breeze the evening offered, their fluttering making reminder of the constant commerce in both souls and shekels that did here daily transpire, as if the whip arm of Christ had long wearied in the attempt to make the temple clean, and the darkening melancholy of this emptied desolation dripped to the scene as if from his own holy despair. To be alone in such expanse as in which the Cathedral was set, and atop the city’s tallest hill, left me feeling naked and open to the eyes of God, where as in the usual press of London, I oft felt as if just one grass in some large field, such that my efforts and my offenses did so easily blend with my neighbor’s that they seemed of diluted consequence. But I now felt as exposed as Adam, when his shame was known, and under threat, not being of late much good in my own company, whereas previous my habits were to much prefer such time alone as I could manage. I felt like a bared throat that awaited such pleasures as any cruel fate did wish to offer, and was much unnerved, such that, when I heard feet ring on the cobbles near and saw that it was Carey, I felt much affection toward him in my relief, even though just an hour previous I was sore distressed in concern of how I might discharge this evening’s business to other than my own detriment.
Carey was dressed much the same as he had at our meeting last, his clothing of fine material and manufacturer but of little ornament or excess, only now with a broad belt and sash from which hung a scabbard holding a broad sword with a thick hilt and handle, it suiting his manner to wear a soldier’s weapon and not the rapiers that were common to his class.
“Is our congress now so common that I no longer deserve the compliment of some finer dress?” he asked, his comment seeming both in some humor and some disapproving. After our business with Jaggard, I had retired with Burbage and Heminges to a tavern in that district in which the stationers were thick, it being half of the way from the theater to the cathedral. I had dressed for Jaggard in such matter that did make me a gentleman seem, but only as such I could from my own closet.
“In truth, I had attired for our previous discourse and that with your family out of the stores of our company, my own clothes being at best such as you see now. But as you seemed wish that this truck be held quiet, I dressed such that, should I encounter some that I know, they would not find my costume of note and thus my business, also, note not.”
Carey waved his hand as it to bat a fly. “So, what news?”
“Were you at Somerset the night your father died?” I asked.
“I was not, but did arrive the morning next.”
“Did you note upon his person any mark of violence or such other as did strike you odd?” I did not want to ask about the poxing of the hands or mouth direct, as such might color his recollection, but instead wanted to hear plain his remembering.
“Of violence, no, though he was then already dressed as should befit his station and powdered and perfumed as is the habit. He was much reddened about the mouth, but I thought that likely of his illness.”
I relayed his brother’s account of his father’s final hours, though not in the same unkind spirit in which I had heard it, and then also what the apothecary had said of banes, their effects and their common place in many gardens.
“So you are saying poison?”
“Yes, my Lord. It seems certain. And it confirms your own dream, in which you saw both his mouth and his hands much poxed.”
“His hands were gloved when I saw him that morning next, but his mouth was unnatural red.”
“If you think it wise, I would like to meet with such of your servants as were attending him in his last days. For such poisons as his symptoms would suggest would sure have been introduced through his supper.”
Carey nodded. “So you think some servant wished my father ill?’
“Whether some servant wished him ill, or was the agent of some other that wished him ill, or was perhaps just witness to such act, I cannot know, But as kitchens and suppers are their province, I do hope they have some knowing, even if they know not its portent.”
“Then I will have them know you wish their thoughts on my father as their good master for that work for which you have been commissioned, and you can decide best how to frame such inquires as to tease out some truth.” He paused, scanning for a moment the surrounding city, many lights now showing in its pooling darkness, and such sounds and alarms that seemed somehow more common to the night making their faint echo. “In your message, you mentioned some abuse of my name? What of this?”
“Know first, please, that I am the messenger only, and such as I have heard is not my opinion, but only . . .”
He held up a hand, stopping my speech. “Do you think me such a fool that I cannot tell message from insult? Speak clear and waste not my time with your apologies.”
“Your brother made claim that such debts as your father held equaled what estate he did bequeath, though as your brother seemed some soured at his status, I thought perhaps his opinion colored by his contempt. But my landlord, too, in a recent matter made the same claim, which made me think it be common thinking.”
“And how are my debts of your concern?’ Which sounded both question and challenge.
:”Twofold, my Lord. As such debts as you may have inherited were first your father’s, and as the fires of greed do oft burn brightest in foul mischief, I do consider that such debts could be motive in his murder. And second, as you have asked me talk plain, I must for my Company’s sake consider your patronage, and such effects as your debts may hold for us for good or ill.”
Carey’s face set hard and he paused a long moment. “I have secured you in this current service for such insights as you have in your writing clear shown, but do not suppose your gifts as accountant are required. As to your Company, do you imagine I planned put any coin that is true my own into your endeavors? Such favor as you hold through my office, whether the weight of its name or selection to perform at court, comes either at no cost of mine or else from the public treasury.. Now, as my father’s finances could have borne him ill, I shall consider his accountants and, should I think your console matter, I will take it.” He drew a breath as if controlling his temper. “And who, pray tell, is this landlord who makes so free with my name?”
“Miller, my Lord, who owns our theater, but seeks our eviction current. He is Puritan, and much dismayed of our arts.”
Carey nodded. “I have had word from this Miller, his signature among some Puritan others on a letter praying that I withdraw support for your troop so as to please the honor of God. I did not plan them answer, as their stations and opinions seemed both beneath my concern, but now may make some comment to him on how his manners as concerns my reputation may lead him harm before any such that his God may have in store for him.” Carey then did reach into the top of one glove and pull a folded paper, which he opened. A copy of the pamphlet from Jagger’s press.
“On the matter of honor,” he said, “I was also was recent made an anonymous present of this.”
I could feel my face color and such that I feared even in this dark it be plain. “My Lord, I . . .”
He again held up a hand. “I ask no explanation, as such appetites as men entertain do oft find satisfaction in strange beds, and so to hold judge some man for such acts made public that I myself have frequent done in private satisfies no definition of justice. But the fact of reputation, that does matter, and so I will scold you stern to be sure in future to shake thy speare only in such fashion as not to gain such fame for that performance as you have from those of more public display.” He waved the pamphlet as if removing from it some stench, and then let it fall to join that trivial litter of human vanities that flowered across the Cathedral grounds. “The harm this does you is not to sever that thread that from my favors hang, but only to saw it half. One scandal is an accident, but a second would prove a habit from which I would be excused.”
I made a short bow. “I thank you and will hold your console close.”
“Do you suppose that pamphlet, too, came from this Miller? For I may add that to the curriculum on which I shall have him schooled. As your Company bears my name, such public insult to it accrues some to me.”
“To be true, I did at first think it so, but have had cause now to wonder other.” I explained the events of the past days in their varied machinations, including such matters of land as I understood. “I see in this confluence of misfortune not so much poor luck, but rather some plan that means our Company ill, or at least my person.”
Carey seemed unsettled, which I took in some surprise, not supposing that my fortunes weighed heavy in his list of cares. Companies of players were thick on the ground, and should one fall, and he still wish to serve patron, he could easy find some other.
“This matters of lands you mentioned. This company with which you think Miller be in league is named Somerset?”
“It is, my Lord.”
“And so some would borrow the name of my house to lend their scheme weight, unless those shareholders be also in residence there.”
“So it seems.”
“Shoreditch, you said? This is the center of their plan?”
“As far as I can know. Our attorney will inquire further and seeks such records as may confirm the fact of things.”
“My father gained some land holdings in Shoreditch years back in the settlement of some old matter. As they are not of his baronial estates, I did not account them much, the baronial estates coming to me by primogeniture and such other interests as he did hold bequeathed to my brother for his maintenance. That a company of such name should involve properties of that district and at such timing gives me pause.”
As I have at every moment in Carey’s company, in both this meeting and our first, I felt as if a drunk man making his way on a frozen ice, taking each step with certain care and afraid at each of some bad fall.
“My Lord, I must relay that, in my converse with your brother, he did not in his manner hold your father in the same affection as do you.”
“To speak plain, you mean my brother was in turns petulant, offensive and graceless, but no doubt fine attired and presenting his insult in some considerable style.”
“I would not impugn his honor to phrase it so, my Lord.”
“You cannot impugn what he does not hold. Were he in some desert parched and water offered, if water be honor, he would drown in its drinking, having no custom in its management.”
I made no answer, Carey’s opinion being plain and seeing nothing to be gained in agreeing to such insult to his family.
“We are at some change in time, where lawyers are as much feared as men at arms, and the Bourse makes such moneyed mischief by means of companies and shares, that those lands and estates in which wealth were once measured do oft become instead the instrument of some other’s gain. And nobels who did once hold their title and honor dear and made their allegiance to the crown only now oft make bedfellow with such common grubbers as these. Even our good Queen must make a fashion of obeisance to such usurers who do our debts support. And all manner of such craft and art as did before hold even a common man in standing, be his trade in wool or iron of those foods on which even our lives do hinge finds the product of art has become through these new abstractions just one more commodity, the paper owning of which somehow extracts all wealth, so that he who makes such real objects as on which these new fortunes are founded is left to begs scraps from these same sorcerers who labor not, nor spin, and yet are afforded such fortunes that Solomon might envy, they being our new lords that reach their station not through fair service and loyal obedience but instead through such sleight of hand that leaves all wondering how some other did end up holding their purse, with some lawyer standing near to call it fair.”
Carey breathed hard, his speech complete, much in anger.
“I do admit,” I said, “that I am oft much confused by the ease at which those who seem to contribute least do seem to profit most.”
“My father’s death seems more surrounded in mischief than I had imagined,” Carey said. “The servants will be at your disposal immediate, so do not tarry in their examination. And I shall consider such debts or properties as may seem party to this evil. Meet me in two day’s time at this same place and hour, and we shall see what the sum of our knowings be..”
Carey turned, waiting for neither answer nor assent, clear used to his instructions being met with strict comply.
I was again alone, that distress that had preceded Carey’s arrival back full and compounded by that dark of the Cathedral district, the church itself being not much lighted and the space about it yawning in full black like a hungering void.
I made my way in care toward the light and sounds of those lanes closest, knowing both that what true dangers I might face lurked more likely there, but feeling in this current darkness such an oppression of spirit that would answer to no reason, but was instead like such fear of the dark I had felt as a child, most oft when I would make way from those rooms where I was schooled pass that charnel house that stored the bones of the dead.
I turned the corner of the Cathedral, barking my foot once hard on some stone, which did for a short moment distract my fears toward more real pains, when some piece of the dark seemed move of its own accord and not as a piece of the whole. And then I heard the soft padding of feet taking care of their sound, and that piece of dark moved plain and toward me direct and with seeming purpose.
I turned and ran, my own feet slapping loud, and could now hear those behind me slapping equal loud. As I had not that day dressed from our Company’s costume, I also did not carry any sword, but only such short dagger as was my usual, and that used usually only to carve at food, not at specters formed seeming whole from the bowels of night.
I stumbled brief on some unevenness, thus losing pace, those feet behind me holding speed to draw more close, and then heard clear that sound of a sword drawn. Ahead and near the wall, I could see stored such stones and timbers that awaited use in the Cathedral’s finishing, and I ran hence hoping to find some tool for my defense, grabbing from the top of one pile a rock near the size of my hand, and I turned and hurled it at my assailant, it striking him on the shoulder, but not of that arm that held his sword, in which seemed focused all such little light as was present found, such that the sword seemed in its gleam invested of some foul purpose of its own devising.
The blow from the rock at least slowed the specter’s headlong rush, his feet now making a more purposeful stalking, the blade held easy in his right hand as if from long practice. I grabbed a length of pole that I found handy, it being longer by some two feet than my own height, and turned with it, my hands braced wide to control its length as would a pikeman. I hoped that, if this was the same assailant I had previous encountered, he would again prove reluctant to join with a prepared foe, and would think discretion the better part of valor.
But if it were the same opponent, he did this night have more appetite, and continued near. I swung my staff at him with what force I could manage, but its length and weight blunted this effort, and the specter raised his left arm, accepting what blow I had managed against his ribs, and then clamping his arm down solid on the weapon and grabbing it with his hand, me feeling in that effort such strength I knew to be well beyond mine own, but as I had two arms to control the staff and he but one, at least so long as he chose to hold his sword, I thought I might wrest the pole free or pull him from his balance, and so did brace my feet and swing with my entire effort, but he simply danced his feet some in the direction of my attempt, taking in that moment the chance to advance his grip on the pole closer to me, his sword now more raised, as if a cock that, thinking the moment of its satisfaction near, was now aroused.
His hand crept up another length, and he swiped with his sword, as if to measure such distance remaining, which distance was uncomfortable slight, and I was overcome, not with such fear as I would have thought, but instead with despair, knowing well my end would be here, and feeling past what short moments I was still allotted no comfort or promise or even threat of suffering, but instead just a blank expanse that in its absolute negation made seem such visions of hell as I have heard previous pleasant by compare. And I thought sudden of the fishmonger’s daughter, and knew her there to be my waiting companion, though in such vastness we would have no congress, but be each in such void alone, and I was sudden wearied and absent any hope, and resolved to release the pole, accept the blade and hope that in the void at least I would be absent any consciousness so that this vile and draining horror would flow away with my blood.
But instead it was my opponent who the pole released, turning sudden to raise his blade against some threat I had in my reverie missed, Carey being close behind him, his blade descending hard onto that of my enemy, but there seeming some last sudden angle in Carey’s effort that drove the offending blade not only down, but also some to one side, Carey drawing his blade up then and flicking it across, the tip of it cutting some into the assailant’s left arm.
He seemed only some little dissuaded by this injury, though, keeping his blade level with his right arm, his feet making an artful shuffle, and making with his sword some subtle motions as if to invite Carey to attack. Carey instead held his blade high, above his head, as if an ax, and the assailant, sensing some opportunity, lunged forward, Carey turning some and bringing his sword down with much savagery but also some small craft, so that again the foe’s blade was directed down and away, and Carey did again draw his own back across the attacker’s person, this time cutting some into his chest, and knew then to press his advantage, bring his blade down again in the same fashion, this time knocking the enemy’s blade aside such that his next blow bit unimpeded into that hollow where the neck met the shoulder and continued down some long way into the assailant’s chest, crushing through flesh and bone, the foe’s death coming sudden and complete.
I was stunned at this conflict’s speed and nature, such swordplay as we have in our production’s staged being always of long and artful dance and ending with some thrust that left the in such imagined harm, so that his final agonies, gave good occasion for some quip or speech to either ennoble or amuse us by his death.
What I had witnessed was no wound of my acquaintance, but instead a sundering through which death did speak complete in a tongue of blood and organ and shattered bone and with an eloquence by which the grave gave full flower to its to the validity of its argument.
Carey turned to me. “You had not thought to offer some assist?”
“I . . .” I said. “I’m thankful you seemed to have no need of it.”
He snorted. “He seemed some little practiced with a sword, but more of that gentle prancing as the city’s fencing tutors suggest for dueling, where the parties make dance in the name of honor and oft call such honor as they hold satisfied so soon as one suffers some small scratch. I have learned my art at war, and would have it done quick and to my advantage and with only such little style as necessary that I show my foe’s guts to the sun.”
“Or the moon,” I said.
He pulled the cloak from the corpse and used it to clean the blood from his blade before he returned it to his scabbard.
And I looked down into the face of the bulbous nosed man who had been my common companion these few days last.
“I would make your introduction to that man that has served my shadow since our first meeting,” I said, “but I fear your ministrations do leave him mute.”
“He can make his conversation with Satan then,” Carey said, “but I will his homely face suggest to my father’s fellows, such nose as that being with ease remembered.”
I looked down at my late shadow, flayed so that he seemed forked, with his head to the left and his arm and shoulder to the right and yawning grin of violence glistening between in this dull lighting, and even though his intent had been that I now be on such journey as he current suffered, I was still much suffused in that rank despair that I had felt in that moment when I thought myself perched on the brink of such abyss as in which he now plummeted endless, there being no bottom to it or side or top, and did know that such sense as I had previous of death had been of theory only, for while I have seen many dead and even some by violence, I had never before been so nearly attired in its finery, and I knew each minute forward I would feel that cloak upon my shoulders so that no matter how cheered and graceful the raiment of any given day, it would be some dulled in my understanding by the knowing of its transitory grace beyond which ever towered this monstrous nothingness. I was now already part claimed by death, and feared it did somehow make me its servant.